- It's time to challenge some longstanding assumptions about men and sexual desire.
- In a recent study, 95 percent of men said feeling wanted is at least "important."
- More than 8 men in 10 wish women would show their desire for them by taking more erotic initiative.
The rock anthem, “I Want You to Want Me,” has been covered by many bands. The title might suggest that the original artist was a woman; after all, our culture generally assumes that men, but not women, experience lust, while women, but not men, want to feel desired. But the song was neither written by, nor originally performed by, a woman. The 1977 hit was recorded by the all-male rock band Cheap Trick. How could a macho, swaggering group express sentiments that appear on the surface to be so female? Because despite cultural assumptions about relationships—what sexologists call “sexual scripts”—the need to feel wanted is by no means exclusively female.
Except for those who identify as asexual, practically everyone wants to feel wanted and sexually desired. That’s what Canadian researchers recently discovered in a survey of 300 men. Yes, heterosexual men certainly lust after women—but they also want to feel that women desire them.
The researchers recruited participants through the huge discussion site Reddit, specifically sub-Reddits focused on men and male experience. Participants had to be 18 to 65, heterosexual, involved in a sexual relationship for at least six months, and willing to complete a 25-minute survey dealing with sexual desire. As an incentive, they were offered a chance to win $100 Amazon gift cards.
Three hundred men completed the survey. Sixteen percent were 18 to 30. Half were in their 30s. And 17 percent were over 40. Sixty percent were married, with the rest cohabitating or seriously dating. Relationship duration varied from seven months to 45 years, with an average of 12 years. Eighty-eight percent were white, with the other 12 percent including all other races. These demographics are not exactly representative of North Americans, but they are sufficiently diverse to suggest that the study’s findings are credible.
The survey asked three questions. The first: How important is it to you to have your female partner want you, that is, sexually desire you?
- Not at all important: 0 percent.
- Not particularly important: 5 percent.
- Important: 8 percent.
- Very important: 58 percent.
- Extremely important: 20 percent.
- The most important element in sex: 8 percent.
No men said feeling desired didn’t matter. A whopping 95 percent said feeling desired was at least “important,” with 86 percent calling it very important, extremely important, or the single most essential element in sex.
The second question: What does your partner do to make you feel sexually desired? Twelve percent said they couldn’t answer. They could not recall ever feeling desired. The rest were clear about what made them feel desired:
- She caresses me non-sexually: 34 percent.
- She talks about sex or talks “dirty.” 30 percent.
- She initiates sex: 28 percent.
- She is enthusiastic during sex: 19 percent.
- She compliments me: 17 percent.
- She flirts with me: 14 percent.
- She gives me “sexy looks:” 12 percent.
- She dresses provocatively: 12 percent.
More than eight out of 10 of the men (82 percent) mentioned touching: nonsexual caresses, initiating sex, and enthusiasm during lovemaking. Almost two-thirds (61 percent) cited talking: flirting, talking dirty, discussing sex, and offering compliments. And one-quarter (24 percent) brought up visual cues: sexy looks and dressing suggestively.
The third question: What would make you feel more desired? More than one-quarter (12 percent) of the men could not come up with anything, but the rest said:
- Flirt more: 19 percent.
- Be more romantic: 18 percent.
- Initiate sex: 17 percent.
- Clearly communicate sexual feelings: 15 percent.
- Show more interest in sex: 14 percent.
Most of these comments focused on taking some initiative: flirting, initiating sex, and talking about it.
Other recent studies have also shown that men want to feel wanted:
- The University of Washington scientists interviewed men aged 18 to 25 about their feelings concerning stereotyped sexual scripts—men lust, and women want to feel desired. Almost two-thirds of the men (61 percent) bought into the stereotype—men as initiators, with feeling desired not being particularly important. But more than one-third (39 percent) yearned to feel desired and expressed discomfort with the standard male script.
- Investigators at the University of California, San Francisco, and the University of New Brunswick interviewed college men about their preferences for sexual initiation. Some felt men should always initiate, but almost three-quarters (72 percent) wanted more egalitarian initiation, with women starting the ball rolling as often as they did.
Are Men Changing?
Sexual scripts are generalizations. They don’t explain everyone all the time and never have. Clearly, the heterosexual male script of unbridled lust without regard to feeling desired doesn’t explain all men, if it ever did. This line of research is fairly recent, so we have no comparable studies from, say, 20, 30, or 40 years ago. But I’m guessing a growing proportion of men want to feel wanted. That doesn’t mean we should retire the adage: Men lust. Women yearn to feel desired. But it should no longer be taken as gospel.
Facebook image: Josep Suria/Shutterstock
Dworkin, SL and L O’Sullivan. “Actual Versus Desired Initiation Patterns Among a Sample of College Men: Tapping Disjunctures Within Traditional Male Sexual Scripts,” Journal of Sex Research, 42:150. Doi: 10.1080/00224490509552268.
Masters, TN et al. “Sexual Scripts Among Young Heterosexually Active Men and Women: Continuity and Change,” Journal of Sex Research (2013) 50:409. Doi: 10.1080/00224499.2012.661102.
Murray, SH and L Brotto. “I Want You to Want Me: A Qualitative Analysis of Heterosexual Men’s Desire to Feel Desired in Intimate Relationships,” Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy (2021) 47:419. Doi 10.1080/0092623X.2021.1888830.